NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
We are in for an active year in the Senate. Almost all Senate agencies have been intensely engaged in developing recommendations about the Post-Employment Benefits Task Force report. President Yudof has recently indicated that he will recommend a modified version of “Option C” that will provide a maximum 2.5% age factor to new hires in a new tier pension plan at age 65, with an employer contribution of 8.1% and an employee contribution of 7.0% of covered compensation. Virtually all of the Senate responses reviewing the Task Force report indicated a preference for Option C over either of the integrated plans, and the Academic Council has endorsed that position. President Yudof heard the Senate position, along with the position of representatives of the staff organization, and responded accordingly. Beyond the new tier design, there has been little disagreement with the other Task Force recommendations regarding a financing plan and retiree health care. This has been a difficult issue for everyone and discussed at great length in Senate committees and on the campuses beginning last March when UCFW, UCPB, and the equivalent divisional committees and executive councils were briefed on options under consideration. In addition, past Council Chair Harry Powell and I visited every campus to meet with faculty to discuss benefits options. There is no doubt that all of these proposals represent a reduction in compensation for all UC employees. As difficult as these pay cuts are, I welcome the President’s recommendation. Moving forward, we must focus our efforts on establishing competitive overall remuneration for faculty and staff.
As you know, California finally has a 2010-11 budget, which is relatively favorable to higher education considering the budget cuts being imposed on most State-funded programs. The budget restores the $305 million cut UC took last year with a combination of state funds and one-time federal stimulus money. We also have new money for enrollment growth and retiree health benefits. We have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction. UC faculty played a key role in this outcome through last year’s unprecedented advocacy efforts, which were highly effective in educating policy makers and their staffs. The three segments of higher education working together through the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates added a strong voice to the process. The Senate will continue its advocacy efforts this year, particularly in communicating the value of higher education and UC’s research mission. I invite individual faculty to contact their legislators and write to the new governor about supporting higher education.
Shortfalls in State support and the additional burdens of funding the retirement plan will impose increasingly difficult challenges to UC’s operating budget. I feel as if UC’s historic quality is being crushed by the slow collision of two trains heading towards each other on the same track in a tunnel. One is the train of privatization driven by steadily increasing fees, whether imposed on an ad hoc basis by individual programs that see themselves as “professional,” or adopted across all campuses. The second train rolls from high quality to second or third tier mediocrity. Just like the privatization train, this one is quiet and slow moving, but it is nonetheless moving forward. The engineer of the second train is our inability to provide competitive compensation and desirable working conditions to faculty and staff, the people who make possible the research accomplishments on which UC’s prestige is built, and who undertake the teaching program that educates the best of California’s students.
The University requires a strategic plan to derail these trains before they collide. The faculty, acting collectively through the representative structure of the Senate must step forward with priorities and its guidance for the near term future. The Academic Council, in its review of the Council recommendations to the Commission on the Future adopted last spring, and with the assistance of the Academic Council Special Committee on a Plan for UC, will attempt to formulate a set of ideas for circulation to the entire faculty for their review.
The Council recommendation to freeze faculty hiring and construction and restrict new programs to those for which funding is definitively allocated was intended to start a conversation about what UC should look like in 5 to 7 years, and to focus the Senate on developing a plan for UC’s strategic direction. President Yudof has asked us to address the specific implications of the recommendations for educational quality and access, and I have tasked several systemwide committees to evaluate specific areas. The Special Committee on a Plan for UC is charged to develop a faculty plan for the future of UC that is due to Council later this fall. The committee is led by immediate past Senate Chair Harry Powell and includes faculty members who were part of the Commission on the Future process. This is a huge task for the Senate. We may fail to accomplish it, but we will definitely fail to represent the faculty interest if we do not try.
UC’s overall quality is under threat. For the first time in our history, the size of the ladder rank faculty has declined – by 1%. At the same time, the competitiveness of total remuneration for faculty continues to decline in relation to our peers, threatening our ability to recruit and retain the world’s best, and making our woefully uncompetitive salary scales more irrelevant. I believe there are two things that distinguish UC from other higher education institutions. One is our system of shared governance; and the other is our merit and promotion system. I fear we are in danger of losing the latter. The Senate needs to decide whether we want to continue to rely on a peer reviewed compensation system based on set salary scales, or to continue the trend toward individually negotiated market-based salaries largely determined by deans and vice chancellors.
The Legislature and some UC Regents are pressuring UC to simplify the community college transfer process by reducing variations between the campuses’ lower division prerequisites for admission into selected majors. The Senate wants to be responsive within the scope of what is possible and good for undergraduate education. However, it is not clear that the problem has been defined accurately: UC is accommodating more transfer students than ever and is over the 60/40 percent ratio of upper to lower division students contemplated in the Master Plan. Transfers perform as well as students who entered as freshmen in terms of time to degree, graduation rates, and GPA. President Yudof has directed the Senate to report on a plan in January, and I have asked BOARS and UCEP to take the lead in developing a Senate position. We have also joined Provost Pitts in bringing together faculty from five disciplines across the system to explore the degree to which we might create more similar lower division major prerequisites across the campuses.
All ten campuses want to grow, and all want a larger share of resources. We must remember that UC as a system of ten campuses is much stronger than any campus would be individually. The system’s strength is that it allows each campus to pursue its own excellence. The Senate is a unifying force across the campuses and the guardian of UC quality. It is a place for informed, open, extensive debate about the issues facing UC and is a source of guidance on fundamental principles. Robust discussion and that reflects diverse views and experiences is the Senate’s best means of maintaining and renewing quality. The Senate and its traditions have survived many crises. If the Senate develops a plan based on its longstanding values, we will succeed.
It is time for the faculty to establish a direction for UC based on sound policy guidance. The Senate’s unique role in shared governance empowers the faculty to have major influence over the future direction of the world’s best public University. The University of California’s eminence is built upon the work of faculty who have produced its research and taught its students. The faculty is responsible for insuring the continuation of that tradition. Please add your voice to the conversation.